It would be safe to say (perhaps even an understatement) that the world of professional cricket will never be the same again after the Indian Premier League (IPL). In so many ways, the IPL has irrevocably changed the landscape of professional cricket.
On a global scale, the IPL has given cricket a status it would otherwise never have enjoyed. Cricket is a commercially viable activity in only about ten countries. Crucially, it is not a mainstream sport in North America, mainland Europe, China or Japan – the homes to the world’s economic powerhouses. It is a big sport in only four of the world’s top fifty economies: India, the United Kingdom (England), Australia and South Africa.
But despite these statistics, the IPL is one of the biggest and most popular professional sports leagues in the world. Various sources put the IPL’s revenue at somewhere between US$3,6 – 4,5 billion. Whatever number you take, it places the IPL in the top twenty of professional sports leagues measured by revenue. In terms of international popularity of professional sports leagues using television viewership figures and average crowd attendances are yardsticks, sources are once again varied but the IPL is somewhere in the top ten of every list.
There is still potential for the IPL to grow its popularity because its television rights have to date only been sold in one of the world’s major economies, the United States. (It is still very low-key though. The American rights are held by Willow TV, a sports channel completely devoted to overseas cricket and targeting exclusively the Indian diaspora in North America.) Although it is distributed internationally on the internet, the television rights remain unsold in China, Japan and mainland Europe. If the IPL can grow its following, increased revenue is sure to follow.
The IPL has also elevated the level of professionalism in cricket to a height it would otherwise never have achieved. Ten years ago, the chances of a professional cricketer making serious money were virtually zero if you weren’t an Englishman or Australian. But the IPL has made dollar millionaires (in some cases, literally overnight) of many cricketers from around the world and opened financial doors that otherwise would simply never have existed. The West Indian players, in particular, have made the most of this windfall and the likes of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell are now mega-wealthy mega-stars.
But it is not only in the dizzy realms of million dollars that the IPL has benefitted professional cricketers. The IPL concept has spawned a number of similar tournaments around the world: The Australian Big Bash (which, incidentally, is fast catching up with the IPL on a global scale in terms of popularity), the Caribbean Premier League, the Bangladesh Premier League and the Pakistan Super League. South Africa has finally caught up with the recent announcement of its own global T20 competition, to be launched in November.
The squad compositions in all these tournaments are such that on average around 70% are local players. Even the lowest paid players, who would otherwise have been just journeyman professionals in their countries, now have the chance of reaping substantial financial rewards. More than that, these tournaments have become a shop window for the more lucrative IPL. Players like Australians Ben Dunk and Billy Stanlake, and Trinidadians Samuel Badree and Nicholas Pooran wouldn’t have played in the IPL if they weren’t first noticed in their domestic T20 tournaments.
Like any international tournament, the IPL has its challenges and detractors. But for the most part it has had a positive influence on cricket as a global, professional sport.